REVIEW: “Toward the Luminous Towers” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Toward the Luminous Towers” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 221-233 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Warfare, combat, drug use, death, murder, injury, amputation, ableism, dehumanization, suicide.

Sometimes, reading a story, I can’t help but think what a mystery the human mind is, that it can come up with such things. Takács takes the reader into a pretty dark place in this story — all the content warnings above are necessary in this one, and even for someone who does not particularly struggle with any of these topics, I found this an unsettling and distressing story.

(Originally published in Clarkesworld #120, 2016).

REVIEW: “The Oracle of DARPA” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “The Oracle of DARPA” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 217-220 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Weapons development.

One part technical report, two parts poetry, this is an excellent example of speculative fiction. It’s very short, but it wasn’t until almost the very end that I had a sudden realisation of where it was going. Very satisfying.

(First published in Toasted Cake no. 81, 2012).

REVIEW: “Shovelware” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “Shovelware” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 213-216 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content note: Allusions to civil war.

I know a lot of writers are uncertain of how to write a diverse cast of characters because they don’t know how to introduce the diversity without making it a plot point. Any writer who feels like they need a master class in how to do this should read this story: What I loved most about it was how cheerfully and blatantly Takács it. Liliane is “tall, muscular, ethnically mixed” (p. 213), but, as she tells Tamás when they first meet, she’s not Muslim. Tamás is an immigrant, and gay. With the exception of the first (which the omniscient narrator tells us), all the other facts come out in conversation. Because that’s how it works — people talk about who they are. If you’re gay, if you’re an immigrant, if you’re a Muslim or not, it’s just part of who you are and how you want people to see you (or not). Reading stories like this is reassuring to me as a writer — because it shows it isn’t that hard! — and as a reader, because knowing this sort of thing can be done makes reassures me of the increasing likelihood that I can find stories with characters like me.

Other than that, the story seemed almost ordinary — nothing very deep or technical or fantastical beyond two people who meet and become friends — but the final three paragraphs turned that impression on its head. Yet again, Takács shows they know how to deliver a subtle punch when you least expect it.

(First published in Nature March 10, 2016).

REVIEW: “To Rebalance the Body” by Bogi Takács

Review of Bogi Takács, “To Rebalance the Body” in The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories, (Lethe Press, Inc., 2019): 199-212 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

I was a bit surprised that this story didn’t come with a content note, so I’ll add one of my own — if body-modification or vampirism isn’t your thing, avoid this story.

Ordinary vampires are generally neither my thing nor not my thing, but Master Viiren in this story is no ordinary vampire. With all their usual skill, Takács takes a character type and turns it into something on the border between creepy and unsettling. Master Viiren has an illness for which they take medicine, a medicine which they receive from vesicles on the skin of their servant, Biruyan. There is a deep physical intimacy between the two, and the narrators obsequiousness to their master makes it almost uncomfortable to witness.

What was not so uncomfortable, for me at least, was the direct way in which both Biruyan and Master Viiren confront the problematic consequences of adherence to a gender binary and a sex binary. While issues of gender and sex are threaded throughout the stories in this volume, only a few of the stories explicitly revolve around the topic, and its strongest in this one. It’s one of the thins that I’ve loved about this collection as a whole: How much gender matters, but how much also it doesn’t have to be central, but (on the third hand) how much it also can be the central guiding force of a story, and also how gender and sex are intertwined.

(First published in Nerve Endings, ed. T. Hill-Meyer, 2017).

REVIEW: “Recovery” by Kate Sheeran Swed

Review of Kate Sheeran Swed, “Recovery”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

For anyone who complains there are not enough SFF stories featuring eldery women MCs, this is a story for you! We learn in the second paragraph that Penny, the narrator, is eighty-six years old, and soon after that we learn that she — like everyone else — has the option of reliving four minutes of her life but — unlike everyone else — she’s lived 86 years without taking up the option. Most people use their 4 minutes long before they ever get old.

Based on a fun, fluffy premise, the story nevertheless has a good depth, balancing the serious question of what one could (or should) do if they got a four-minute redo with a lovely depth of humor. As Penny and her roommate Molly make their escape from the nursing-home to chase down the Well-Dressed Man, at times I found myself grinning in pleasure, and at times I found myself surprisingly touched.

REVIEW: “The Wiser Move, the Better Choice” by Katherine Kendig

Review of Katherine Kendig, “The Wiser Move, the Better Choice”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The philosophical premise of this story is the relationship between prophecy and free will — if the oracle at Delphi has decreed that Perseus will one day kill his grandfather, what chance does Perseus have in avoiding his fate? (Not that this is the story at hand here — Prophecy-touched Rien and Tia who makes her question her belief in her own free will are nothing like Perseus and the oracle — but it’s a good illustrative example.) I really enjoyed the precise, argumentative, back-and-forth between Rien and Tia, especially Tia’s insistent picking at Rien’s fundamental principles, it appealed to the philosopher in me. 🙂 While the focus of the story was Rien, the influence of Tia on Rien’s life — an influence nearly as strong as Prophecy itself — pervaded the story, and I enjoyed that.

REVIEW: “Don’t Stop” by Reneé Bibby

Review of Reneé Bibby, “Don’t Stop”, Luna Station Quarterly 39 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Content note: Death of a parent.

LSQ doesn’t do that much straight-up horror, but that’s what this story feels like. I’d classify this story as “solid but not surprising”, relying on the standard trope of don’t-stop-for-hitchikers — but there’s a reason that that trope became a trope! It works — were it not for one surprising, or at least unexpected, choice, namely, one of the secondary characters is deaf. That was a plus for this story in my book, but minusing it out was the way that mental illness as pathologized. So in the end, I came away from this story rather ambivalent.